C.S. Lewis: The Argument from Desire
Within the discipline of Christian Apologetics, there are many arguments for the existence of God. One of the most compelling arguments is the argument from desire. This argument basically states that there are natural desires within human nature that correspond to real objects, which are the satisfaction of those desires. Further, there exists in humanity a natural desire for something beyond anything found on earth (time and space). Therefore, there must really exist something beyond time and space that can satisfy this desire. That “something beyond” is best understood as God, or eternity with God.
What is compelling about this argument is that it identifies with a reality that is both experienced and observed. The purpose of this blog will be to analyze the argument from desire by its major proponents in order to convey its strength. The best-known proponent of this argument is C.S. Lewis. Interwoven into the majority of his writings, this desire (what he would refer to as “joy”) was a major theme in his defense of the faith. His lasting influence has lent its hand to the development of this argument as it is used today.
Peter Kreeft has expounded upon Lewis’ work on the argument to develop what he believes is the greatest argument for the existence of God. In his Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Kreeft presents the argument in philosophical fashion with his major premise, minor premise, and conclusion that reflect heavily the thoughts of Lewis. He has summarized, elaborated, and popularized the argument in his apologetic work as a writer and speaker, and continues to propose the argument’s validity today. (A discussion of Kreeft will be presented in part two.)
Lewis’ greatest contributions to the argument from desire are found in his works Mere Christianity and The Weight of Glory. In the chapter entitled Hope, Lewis posits one of his most famous lines: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
This desire, Lewis argues, resides in each individual and is common to all human experience. It is the want for what he would closely associate with Heaven, or how the believer will experience God in Heaven. In expounding on his major premise Lewis claims “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.” That is to say that all natural desires correspond to a true satisfaction. For hunger, there is food. For sexual desire, there is sex.
In the conclusion of his argument, Lewis identifies the satisfaction for this desire as the eternal world, or life with God – Heaven. In essence, Lewis claims that for the Christian, Heaven is the “natural,” or “proper” reward for discipleship. It is Heaven, Lewis argues, that will satisfy the immortal longings given from the Creator. Much of Lewis’ writings entertain notions of what Heaven will entail, but a greater majority of his work focuses on the desire itself.
Sehnsucht: Desire Defined
The innate desire for something beyond embodies Lewis’ work. His most telling depictions are contained in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy. The book documents his road to conversion, and how the road was charted to fulfill this desire. In the opening chapters, Lewis conveys his first experiences with this longing; what he referred to as Sehnsucht (the German expression for a deep emotion of desire or longing). Throughout his writings, Lewis used different expressions to talk about the same desire (joy, longing, or Romanticism).
This desire is distinct from all others in two ways: 1) the desire, though intense, is almost itself desirable, and 2) there is peculiar mystery surrounding the object of this desire. The first distinction qualifies this desire as different from all others in that it is itself the greatest desire. Lewis notes, “To have it [the desire] is, by definition, a want: to want it, we find, is to have it.” In the second distinction, Lewis is convinced that the object of the desire is shrouded in peculiar mystery because it has not yet been obtained in this world. He states, “the human soul was made to enjoy some objects that is never fully given – nay, cannot even be imagined as given – in our present mode of subjective and spatio-temporal experience.”
It is also important to note that the desire Lewis spoke of was not unique to himself or other aesthetic seekers, but true to all of humanity. He states, “Most people, if they had really learned to look in their hearts, would know that they do want, and acutely, something that cannot be had in this world.” It is this honest, inward reflection Lewis would appeal to in order to establish the desire as valid. This honest reflection was prevalent in his journey to faith.
The Lived Dialectic
Lewis’ life and writings were marked by careful attention to the ultimate desire. In his childhood, the desire was first aroused by nature and Norse mythology. Although his rational faculties pushed him into Atheism, the pursuit to satisfy the desire became his obsession. He took on very seriously the philosophical ideas of his age in order to find fulfillment, but each dissatisfaction only pushed his pursuit deeper. It is not until the realm of fantasy, in which Lewis felt “stabs” of the elusive joy, and the realm of his rationality that Lewis began to see his disbelief unravel.
The first and strongest realization of joy came to him in reading MacDonald’s, Phantastes. Lewis states that the reading of this book awakened him to a “new quality,” a “bright shadow,” that came out of the book and seemed to transform and permeate his worldview. He referred to this quality as holiness. In reflection of that experiential moment, Lewis said “That night my imagination was, in a certain sense, baptized; the rest of me, not unnaturally, took longer.”
Lewis’ thoughts on desire were also deeply influenced by the writings of G.K. Chesterton. He recalls that Chesterton’s outline of the history of Christianity was “very sensible,” and “in a form that seemed to make sense.” He even remarked that a young atheist cannot be too careful reading someone like Chesterton. Ultimately, what awakened in Lewis and led to his conversion was a discovery of what this desire was all about.
Lewis thought his pursuit and discovery of what this desire really was served as a sort of ontological proof. He argued that his experience and philosophical progress “converged into one goal…a defence of Romanticism (in my peculiar sense) as well as of Reason and Christianity.”  The desirous longing in the end served to point Lewis to “something other and outer.” Those experiences of joy, he argued, only served as signposts of where he thought Christianity was headed: ultimate satisfaction.
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (ed. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2001) 136-137.
 Ibid, 136.
 C.S Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. (1 Ed. New York: Macmillan, 1949) 27.
 C.S. Lewis, “Heaven.” In The Problem of Pain, 148-159. 1940. (Reprint, New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2001) 151.
 Bruce L. Edwards, C.S. Lewis: Life, Works, and Legacy, (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2007) 103.
 C.S. Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress. 1933, 1943. (Reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958) 7-8.
 Ibid, 8.
 Ibid, 10.
 Lewis, Mere Christianity, quoted in Scott R. Burson and Jerry L. Walls, C.S. Lewis & Francis Schaeffer: Lessons for a New Century from the Most Influential Apologists of Our Time (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1998) 180.
 C.S. Lewis, Surprised By Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. (Orlando, FL: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1955) 173.
 Ibid, 175.
 Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 223.
 Lewis, The Pilgrim’s Regress, 10.
 Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 238.